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Kozak Ukrainian Restaurant

Having dipped my toe into the Kozak menu during the “Meet Me in Gastown” block party, I was happy to be able to take the whole plunge with them today.

Having recently discovered this restaurant and liking what I sampled, I was excited to be able to dine-in with my friends today. Little did I know, not only does Kozak Eatery serve as an option for authentic Ukrainian cuisine, but they have one of a kind desserts, and will also one of my new favourite bars to recommend.

Kozak is a cafe and restaurant all in one, where all their baked pastries and breads are made at their New Westminster location and delivered to this, their largest location in Gastown, fresh on the day.

This assortment is displayed right at the entrance and includes cookies, slices of cakes, buns, and danishes. Their best seller is their chocolate babka, a wonderfully dense bread with the rich flavour of chocolate enrobed throughout. I have had the pleasure of biting into a few of them, and each has been consistently like the last.

And if you dine in and order it for dessert, they top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sour cherries to had another level of decadence.

And as good as that sounds, it is their newest pastry that has been turning heads and garnering them more attention. Vancouver is on a croissant craze, and Kozak has introduced everyone to the Croissant Cube. A square block of crispy flaky pastry stuffed with either raspberry and cream cheese or a lemon and blueberry cream. With more flavours in the works.

This is definitely not a one person treat, so bring a friend if you plan to take on this endeavour. Slicing it in half is half the fun. The raspberry is tart and the rich cream cheese balances it out.

Out of the two I prefer the more refreshing lemon and blueberry for its more silken filling and as a nice match with the croissant shell. For both I appreciated how much filling there was, enough for an even bread to cream ratio, no bite went dry.

And if looking to pair your pastry with coffee, I suggest trying a cup of their Ukrainian coffee sweetened with condense milk.

But for me, I will save all my drinking for their bar offerings. I was impressed by how much they made in house and how they stayed true to their heritage, even collaborating with Ukrainian brewers and collecting their recipes to be able to recreate them locally for sale and consumption, here at their restaurant.

For something a little stronger, look to their house made Ukrainian vodka. Flavoured with fruits and berries, the best way to get to know each is by way of their flights.

A row of reds in Raspberry, Cherry, Blueberry, Cranberry, and Bayberry. Raspberry was the least booziest, with cranberry packing a punch. Our server mentioned that the Bayberry was the strongest, but I couldn’t tell given how naturally sweet it was. It reminded me of cotton candy, or a shot you would take at the club to get the night amped.

We shared the flight and found ourselves unaffected by the volume and more enjoying it for its in-house infusion flavours.

And speaking of in house infusing, they also offer and sell their vodka soaked cherry garnishes by the mason jar. The tart cherries act like little sponges, soaking up the spirit. Although like the berry vodkas, this too is not as strong as it tastes.

Looking for more unusual sips, Kozak has plenty of savoury in-house infused vodkas as well.

Naturally I had to try the bacon and horseradish one. It has the undertone of savoury meat and leaves you with the feeling of grease in the mouth. I didn’t know to ask for it, but apparently a shot of Salo Lard and horseradish is a great way to chase it.

There is also a Pepper & Honey in-house infused vodka. It smells vinegary and has a sour bite to it. But is mostly sweet to start, ending on a spicy note. The creaminess of the honey cuts into the heat of the chilli that tickles at the back of your throat. This is also known as “Pertsovka”, which is recommend as a digestive. Very memorable.

And in support of the Ukraine, Kozak has 2 yellow and blue themed drinks. One is a shot and the other a cocktail.

The shot is a true depiction of the flag in an opaque yellow egg liquor and a translucent blue Alize. Sweet and creamy it drank like a dessert.

For something more sip-able look to the Dynamo Negroni, which claims to be “a cocktail as strong as the Ukrainians”. A mix of Empress 1908 Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, and Vermouth. Not Blue blue per se, but until they make a blue coloured gin, this is as close as we will get. This is also not a typical negroni with the use of gin, but a nice sweet and floral take.

And after all that, those aren’t even my favourite of their fun and funky drink options. I was ecstatic to learn that they have two unique savoury cocktail options that mimic a couple of their dishes. As such, I was sure to order them together to compare and contrast.

Drinkable borsch two ways. The cocktail Borsch was a blend of Beet Juice, Bacon-Infused Horilka, Sour Cream Foam, Laphroaig, Lemon Juice, Cream, and Dill. A mix of ingredients that reads like the savoury stew, but drinks more like beet juice than soup; especially given that it is chilled. I could have used more spices and seasonings to have this more like a Caesar, or at least a nice rim on the glass.

As for the Brosch itself, it is considered Ukraine’s 2nd signature dish. Thick and rich in flavor, made with a variety of beets and vegetables. Served traditionally with garlic, salt, bread, and sour cream. This was more tomato based with a tangy minestrone feel. Warm, comforting, and absolutely delicious. Great for the colder weather. Where this and the cocktail parallel is in the beets, there just needs to be some tomato juice mixed stirred in to the cocktail to have the two more similar.

Kozak bakes all their bread in house, and most popular is their sourdough. So it is no surprise to see a nod to this from the bar. This is their Sourdough in a Glass cocktail. The base of this is there in house-made “Kvas”, a classic Ukrainian rye-fermented beverage, mixed with vodka + lemon juice. Altogether with more Vodka, Horseradish, Lemon Juice, and Simple Syrup. Served with a slice of said bread and some horseradish over the foam.

The bread and cocktail definitely speaks better to one another. If you swirl your tongue around it, you get the yeasty nuance of the sourdough, plus a latent fermented funk at the end of your sip. And the horseradish garnish offers a contrasting wasabi-like burn that brings out the flavour of the cocktail even more.

Overall, both are complete stand outs and worth coming down to Kozak to try. They have made it on to my list of favourite savoury cocktails.

Now moving to all the food items we tried: practically the entire menu.

Honestly, I thought the Beet & Brynza Salad would be a bit more intricate. It is literally a brick of Brynza (sheep’s milk cheese) over chopped up beet cubes. I found the cheese similar to a feta, but less salty. You crave out how much of it you want as you go. The dressing is listed as a sunflower oil and strawberry vinegar vinaigrette, but I didn’t get much of that. I wouldn’t order it again, as it felt more like a side you would have a scoop of to accompany a main.

The Kovbasa Sausage Ring delivered. A homemade baked pork sausage ring, served with fresh cilantro, baby potatoes and a spicy red pepper sauce. Not a fully enclosed ring of meat, but positioned in a small skillet that had it overlapping end to end. It had a pleasant spicy and zesty flavour, seasoned with a mix of herbs I am not familiar with. The potatoes included were a nice base to balance out the juicy and fatty sausage.

Another Ukrainian staple is the Holubtsi Cabbage Rolls, with a choice of either pork or mushroom filling. We went for the former. Each was hand rolled and topped with a tangy tomato sauce and sour cream. This had a gentle and mild flavour in comparison to everything else. A little on the bland side, the sour cream helped to give it some depth.

The Deruny Latkes are crispy pancakes made with finely sliced potato or zucchini, then topped with bacon and mushroom, and served with a generous dollop of sour cream. Seeing as potato is the traditional vegetable used, we wanted to try the lesser seen zucchini, and it was delightful. Deliciously crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I would order this one again.

Baba Anya’s Nalysnyky is Ukrainian-style rolled crepes, filled with tender chicken and mushrooms. Served with more mushrooms over top and a side of sour cream. They look like spring rolls, but their wrapping has a texture more similar to an eggy crepe.

Worth noting is that all the dishes above, minus the sides are listed under entrees, although were not entree sized offerings. Luckily we ordered plenty to share amongst three.

I am a big fan of their homemade Pierogies, also known as Varenyky. Here you can have them boiled or fried, and can choose between nine different filling choices, with vegetarian options as well.

We had the potato & dill and pork & onion, boiled, the classic way. As is the filling could have used more seasonings to flavour past the doughy shell. Thankfully the generous amounts of sour cream and candied onion crowning it helped to add some flavour.

They were out of the elk meat Pierogies, so we had the wild boar and lamb deep fried, the modern way. Both hearty with some great meaty earthiness from their respective fillings. Between the two styles I preferred them boiled, but do recommend trying both and a few of their flavours to discover your favourites.

For those who have read my reviews, you know I love a good bathroom moment, and here they have some political fun with their facilities. In the women’s washroom there is a painting of the Russian Kremlin on fire. And in the Men’s washroom you can piss on Putin with his mouth open, and/or over the face of a saluting Stalin. Fun fact: the former regularly goes missing and the staff find themselves scratching their heads, and having to print and laminate a new photo often. The question is who is taking them and what are they doing with this urine soaked memorabilia?

In short Kozak has so much to offer. Not just for authentic Ukrainian fare, but for their amazing bar program, and a trendy baked goods assortment. I will definitely be back and recommend them for all the above.

Kozak Ukrainian Restaurant
1 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC V6C 3N8
(778) 955-9135

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